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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Barton House revisited

Sunday morning after the night before: chilling out on the front steps; "yours truly" in dead centre, wearing sunnies and checkered shirt. Notice the chap on the far right having a "hair of the dog" from a McWilliams flagon left over from the night before. If that didn't do it, there was always BEX powder and a good lie down! Or take Vincent's with confidence for quick three-way relief. All things of the past now!

It was 1965. The Menzies era was coming to an end. The conflict in Vietnam was escalating. And I had just come out to Australia as a young migrant from Germany. I spent those early years, from 1965 to 1967, and then again a brief period in 1969 after I had come back from South Africa, in Canberra in a place called "Barton House" in Brisbane Avenue, one of the many boarding houses then in existence.

Those were the days of parties, of evenings in front of the telly in the TV Room watching "Z-Car" or "M*A*S*H", laughing at the antics of Agent 99 and Maxwell Smart in "Get Smart" ("Good thinking, 99" was a favourite saying in those days); or being bored to death by Barry Jones's insufferable show-off act on Bob and Dolly's BP Pick-a-Box. And then there were the evenings spent at the Burns Club or in the Newsroom of the "Kingo" Pub across the road, drinking 'schooners' and talking about 'sheilas', followed by a last-minute dash back to Barton House before the dining room closed! And Sunday morning, sitting on the frontsteps with the boys, recovering from the night before, while waiting for the week's washing to run through its cycle in the laundry in the backyard.

It was at Barton House that I was introduced to the culinary delights of Australia in the 60s: mixed grill, corned silverside, Yorkshire pudding, spaghetti-meatballs, lamp chops, and, as a filla-uppa, loads and loads of steam-pudding drowned in thick creamy custard. And who can forget those dreadful brown-paperbag luncheon packs of baked-beans sandwiches, chutney sandwiches, and spaghetti sandwiches? Is there anything more revolting than a soggy spaghetti-sandwich dripping through the bottom of a brown paperbag? The people who ate that stuff must've been a weird mob indeed!"
Read on.

My story of "Barton House" has brought back memories for a Dan Simpkins, currently in Bangladesh, who found my webpage on the internet and wrote:

"I was looking for something else, and fell onto your story of Barton House. Intriguing!

I lived at Barton House in 1959 - Jan to Dec. I was a bank Johnny too - but at the old Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Ltd (CBCo) in Kingston. I played rugby for Eastern Suburbs U18s (I was all of 17 in 1959!) The meals, the soggy sandwiches, you captured it so well.

I left Barton to go to RMC and became a Cordy and spent quite a few years in the Army. The Army sent me to Adelaide to complete my degree in civil engineering. Was seconded to the old Dept of Works in TPNG (before Independence) in 1967 to 1969 and was involved in the construction of the Popondetta to Kokoda Road. So I too have a PNG background. I finally gave the military away in 1979.

My wife is from Samoa. I went there in 1991 as the Project Manager for Fletcher Construction and built the road from Falevo to Sale'a'moa at the eastern end of the island. I met my wife in Poutasi (she is from Saluafata), and she is now an Australian citizen. We have two daughters - more beautiful than you can ever imagine.

And the next point of contact is that my brother and my mother lived at Batehaven. My mother died in 2002 and we scattered her ashes in the bay. My brother and his wife now live in Temora.

Loved your stories. For what it is worth, I too am writing a book (actually books to be exact) on a strange and varied life. And at present I am in Bangladesh, and if I can believe the work gods, will be soon off to Pakistan. Again - this will be my third tour in Pakistan.

I would appreciate hearing from you."

Well, so many similarities - for a time we were both Bank Johnnies, lived at Barton House, and worked in Papua New Guinea and Samoa - cannot be left unanswered and so I am now in touch with Dan who, even though he is three years older than me, is still living the expatriate life. Where did I go wrong?

P.S. For another Barton House posting, click here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gone troppo!

Horst Berger's VILLA MAMANA

At last! An email - by courtesy of another island-dweller in Pangai on the neighbouring island of Lifuka - from my Austrian friend Horst Berger who many years ago made the Kingdom of Tonga his home. The photos show his new 'fale Tonga' native abode on remote Uiha Island. It has one solar panel to run one single lightbulb, his CD-player and a blender for the occasional 'banana-shakes, but no fridge and no phone. "What else do I need?", he muses.

He's adopted the islanders' approach to life, a life that is lived from day to day, secure in the knowledge that he has sufficient to keep body and soul together, that between the sea, the land and the small community around him he is well provided for and that, with no need to plan for the future, the passage of time has become inconsequential.

It's right out of Boys Own! Beats living in suburbia, doesn't it?

Here is Horst's description of his 'Place in Paradise' (loosely translated by me):

"My 6 x 3.8m 'fale Tonga' is not waterproof but water-resistant and made entirely with local material using traditional methods: the floor is beach sand, the framework coconut palmtree trunks, walls and roof coconut palmtree fronds. The only concession to modernity is the use of 100 iron nails. The 'furniture' consists of a bed, a cupboard and two small tables, all made from old wooden boxes, and a small gas stove. Under the bed is a wooden box which contains my 'power station': a 12V-battery and a 500W inverter which feeds my 10W-12V Halogen light.

Outside, on the northside, is the all-important solar panel. Next to it is a small space to wash and dry my laundry and a few steps along my small workshop which contains tools and fishing gear. To the left is the toilet and outdoor shower. On the westside of the house, next to the entrance door, is my 'kitchen' as I normally cook outside (the gas stove is for rainy days or when it is too windy or to bake bread with)."

However, even Horst has to admit that "natürlich sehe ich auch Nachteile in einem 'natürlichen Haus' zu wohnen aber auch damit kann man leben." (of course, there are disadvantages to living in a 'strawhut' but I can put up with them).

Is it really such a disadvantage that he no longer has to fumble for light switches or reach out for a tap, that cold drinks are no longer available, that he can no longer watch the news on television, and is no longer surrounded by all sorts of modern-day gadgets? Perhaps, like Robinson Crusoe, he now considers what he has gained: "It was now that I began sensibly to feel how much more happy the life I now led was, with all its miserable circumstances, than the wicked, cursed abominable one that I led all the past part of my days ...

There, but for good wine, Camembert, Pavarotti, private health insurance, and a few million other things, go I.

As one old Tonga hand emailed after seeing the pictures: "Thank you for putting the photos of Horst's 'Villa Mamana' on the Internet. I love that solar cell panel on its stand. He seems to have his private beach too. It looks like he has finally fully settled into the Tongan environment. I would say he will end his days there. Not a bad choice for someone who has been hurt in our type of environment. Funny if one considers that the Tongans nowadays keep their pigs in that sort of houses. Even on Uiha most people now live in wooden or even stone houses. I wonder if they respect him for his way of life which for the Tongans is a thing of the past. After I got married I lived in very similar fashion in Ha'apai, but only for holidays. I am not sure if I would like to give up my house and join him there. It gets uncomfortable when you get old."

If you want to write to Horst, here's his mailing address:

When I write to him, I always enclose a small (and sometimes not so small) banknote to help him with the return postage and let him share a beer with me ☺

More on Horst here and here and here.

Gillard must go!

The record for the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters in one year has been broken.

Department of Immigration figures show 6,765 people have arrived by boat in this year, topping the last record set in 2010, when 6,555 arrived.

The Federal Opposition's Michael Keenan says the figures show the Commonwealth's asylum seeker policies are not deterring people smugglers.

"We're actually having almost on average a boat arrive every single day," he said.

"Clearly that's completely unsustainable and in any functional government it would precipitate a change in policy. But the government in Canberra at the moment is so dysfunctional that they're just going to sit and let this situation deteriorate.

"This means that 2012 is now the worst year on record for people arriving illegally in Australia, the illegal arrivals that have happened today this year have eclipsed the illegal arrivals in any previous year, and of course we're only in July."

Two asylum seeker boats arrived in Australian waters in the space of less than 24 hours over the weekend.

One boat was intercepted off Western Australia's Kimberley Coast near Browse Island, while the second was detected near the Cocos Islands.

Bar Stool Economics

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for a beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100.

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.00
The sixth would pay $3.00
The seventh would pay $7.00
The eighth would pay $12.00
The ninth would pay $18.00
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.00

So that’s what they decided to do.

The men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with arraignment, until one day, the owner threw them a curve.

“Since you are all such good customers", he said, "I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.00.“

Drinks for the ten men now cost just $80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men – the paying customers? How could they divide the $ 20 windfall so that everyone would get there “fair share”?

They realized that $ 20.00 divided by six is $3.33.

But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay!
And so:

The fifth man like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28% savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of 12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid 14 instead of 18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before!

And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant,
the men began to compare their savings.

“I only got a dollar out of the $20“ declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, “but he got $10!”

“Yeah, that’s right", shouted the seventh man. “why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in union. “We didn’t I get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalist and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

For those who understand, no explanation is needed.

For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Virtual Magic Carpet Ride

This is a real treat to all my fellow-armchair travellers! Many of the panoramas have tiny little helicopters to click on when you want to zoom in and see a certain monument, waterfall, peak, etc. I have explored three of the sites so far and I still can’t believe all I’ve seen and read. The English translation is not perfect, but you can definitely tell what you are seeing and how difficult it was to get some of these shots.

Pick a city - after it loads, click once and..... taa-daaa you're there!

Victoria Falls, Zambia

Surroundings of Angel Falls, Venezuela

Angel falls, Venezuela

Kalyan Minaret, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Miami, USA

Las Vegas, USA

Lake Powell, USA

Manhattan, New York, USA

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, USA

Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, New York, USA

Oahu, Hawaii, USA

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, New York, USA

Golden Gate Bridge, USA

Statue of Liberty, New York, USA

Manhattan, New York, USA

Hollywood, California, USA

San Juan and Colorado rivers, USA

Goosenecks, Utah, USA

Mono Lake, California, USA

Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, New York, USA

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Los Angeles, California, USA

Kiev, Ukraine

Ay-Petri, Ukraine

Dubai, UAE

Dubai, Islands, UAE

Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE

Bangkok, Thailand

Sankt-Moritz, Switzerland

Cape Good Hope, South Africa

Cape-Town, South Africa

Moscow, MSU, Russia

Moscow, Kremlin, Bolotnaya Square , Russia

Moscow, Russia

Moscow Kremlin, Russia


Moscow City, Russia

Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

Moscow City, Russia

Trinity Lavra of Sait Sergius, Russia

Saint-Petersburg, Russia

New Jerusalem Monastery, Russia

Saint Petersburg, Russia

Novodevichy Convent. Moscow, Russia

Ramenki,Moscow, Russia

MKAD, Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

Krokus Expo Center, Moscow, Russia

Moscow Region, Russia

Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand

Fiordland, New Zealand

Nepal, Nepal

Maldives, Maldives

Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia

Grimsvotn, Iceland

Amsterdam, Holland

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Egyptian Pyramids, Egypt

Hong Kong, China

The Iguassu Falls, Brazil

Twelve Apostles Marine National Park, Australia

Sydney, Australia

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Egyptian Pyramids, Egypt

Friday, July 27, 2012

MITRE10, eat your heart out!

Nίκος, you're looking at a Bunnings convert! I mean, where else could you buy a cute little OZITO 305mm-bar chainsaw for a hundred dollars and a garden rake with a 10-year guarantee? (I had better hold on to that sales docket, hadn't I?):

Click on image for close-up

And when it comes to wheelbarrows, I need no longer put up with the Anglo-Saxon stuff but go right back to my own ancestry and buy a good ol' SAXON Wheelbarrow for under fifty dollars:

Click on image for close-up

Anyway, it's back to work as the little kingfisher is getting tired of holding up the shovel for me:

P.S. Incidentally, wear their Bunnings strawhat next time you shop with them to get a 10% discount off everything. If you don't get it, ask to see the manager. Tell him I sent you!


A sceptical anthropologist was cataloguing South American folk remedies with the assistance of a tribal elder who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for any case of constipation. When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the elder looked him in the eye and said, "Let me tell you, with fronds like these, you don't need enemas."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I have never heard it put so plain and simple

Many Muslims today are not happy!

They're not happy in Gaza
They're not happy in Egypt
They're not happy in Libya
They're not happy in Morocco
They're not happy in Iran
They're not happy in Iraq
They're not happy in Yemen
They're not happy in Afghanistan
They're not happy in Pakistan
They're not happy in Syria
They're not happy in Lebanon

So, where are they happy?

They're happy in Australia
They're happy in the UK
They're happy in Canada
They're happy in the US
They're happy in France
They're happy in Germany
They're happy in Italy
They're happy in Sweden
They're happy in Denmark
They're happy in Norway

So, they're happy in every country that is not Muslim.

And who do they blame?

Not Islam
Not their leadership
Not themselves


Excuse me, but have I missed something here?

The wife left a note on the fridge.

"It's not working, I can't take it anymore! Gone to stay at my Dad's."

I opened the fridge, the light came on and the beer was cold.... Not sure what she was talking about!

It's tax time again!

I was trying to get a jump on doing my tax return this year but the ATO sent it back!!

I guess it was because of my response to the line which said, "List All Dependants". I wrote, "Half-a-million illegal immigrants, quarter-of-a-million junkies, two million unemployable people on the dole, half-a-million people in over 24 prisons throughout Australia, and over two hundred fools in Parliament House."

Apparently, this was not acceptable.

So I sent my return back with the question, "Did I forget someone?"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hanging out with friends in 2012

Grab a cup of coffee

Dine out at your favourite restaurant

Spend some time at the museum

Meet at a popular diner

Relax at the beach

Go to a game

Going out on a date

Take a drive around town

Thank God I belong to another generation!

They call me Mellow Yellow

They will by the time I've finished 'signposting' all those tree stumps with yellow grapefruits - see Sour Grapefruits - if I don't run out of them first!

Isn't it strange how I remember this forty-year-old tune and yet have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast this morning?

The same thing happened when during yesterday's 'retail therapy' I came across the DVD "The Hustler" in which Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie Felson, the hustler who haunts backstreet pool rooms fleecing anyone who'll pick up a cue.

Quick as a flash I remembered my accounting-colleague in Rabaul in 1970 who was called 'Felson' for his pool room abilities and staying out all hours (not that I knew at the time that his nickname referred to the Paul Newman movie). This is how I remember him and the other accountant with whom I shared a company house:

"Rabaul was everything I had expected of the Territory: it was a small community settled around picturesque Simpson Harbour. The climate was tropical with blazing sunshine and regular tropical downpours, the vegetation strange and exotic, and the social life a complete change from anything I had ever experienced before! Rabaul Harbour And to top it all, I loved the work which offered challenges only available in a small setting such as Rabaul where expatriate labour was at a premium. The firm was small: the resident manager, his wife as secretary, and two accountants (both still studying) plus myself. One of the accountants was a real character who was destined never to leave the Territory. For him the old aphorism came true that "if you spend more than five years in New Guinea you were done for, you'd never be able to get out, your energy would be gone, and you'd rot there like an aged palm." He and an accountant from another chartered firm and myself shared a company house (which was really an old Chinese tradestore) in Vulcan Street and a 'hausboi' who answered to the name of Getup. "Getup!!!" "Yes, masta!"

Each of us took a turn in doing the weekly shopping. I always dreaded when it was their turn as they merely bought a leg of lamb and spent the rest of the kitty to stock up on beer! We spent Saturday nights at the Palm Theatre sprawled in our banana chairs with an esky full of stubbies beside us. The others rarely spent a night at home; their nocturnal activities ranged from the Ambonese Club to the Ralum Club to the RSL. When they were well into their beers, mosquitoes would bite them and then fly straight into the wall! Then, next morning, they were like snails on Valium. How they managed to stay awake during office hours has always been a mystery to me!"

Evidence has been found that William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. Unfortunately, all the Swiss League records were destroyed in a fire, ...and so we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Alf Garnett is alive and well ...

... and pulling beer at the Milton Ulladulla Bowling Club where we had Chicken à la King today before taking the plunge at the Ulladulla Leisure Centre.

Afterwards, we underwent some intensive retail therapy at Bunnings and at our favourite op-shop, Vinnies, where I discovered this little beauty:

As a kid in Germany, I would wait in line for hours to have a crack at one of these table-top soccer games at the local "Haus der Jugend" (youth centre) - and here it was, for sale at a mere $35 ! However, the trouble-and-strife thought there was enough clutter in the house already, and so I had to contend myself with an equally rare find, Charmian Clift's Essays 1968-1969, "Being Alone With Oneself".

Charmian Clift, with her husband, the Australian writer George Johnston - "My Brother Jack" - , and their children, lived for several years on the Greek island of Hydra. After their return to Australia in the mid-1960s, Charmian wrote weekly articles for the Sydney Morning Herald which were later compiled in book form, of which "Being Alone With Oneself" is the final one before her tragic suicide in 1969. Almost forgotten today, her essays are full of glittering prose, passionate opinion, and sheer joy in communication. If you can still find one of her books, grab it! You won't be disappointed!

Gross Government Waste

OK folks. You read this, and then you tell me when enough is enough. What’'s been reported in the papers about this is only the tip of the iceberg.

We've just got to get rid of Gillard and her cronies.

You probably read about the boat people drowning as their boat capsized on the way to Australia. Anyway, the 108 survivors have all been transported to Christmas Island, part of Australia and WA territory even thought they were only 38 kilometers from the Indonesian coast and 200 kilometres from Australian Territory when they capsized.

To make matters worse, they chartered a Royal Flying Doctor aircraft for 3 flights at $120,000 each to bring 8 of them to hospital in Perth.

It gets worse! One Afghan took sick on Christmas island after the RFDS had done their 3 charters, so they chartered a 148-seat Boeing 737 to fly Perth - Christmas Island - Perth to take ONE boat person to hospital; 6 hours flying, full crew, 2 passengers, one being a government official.

It gets worse! They've just converted an old Army camp at Northam, a small town 80 kilometres east of Perth, to house boat people. Cost $125,000,000 to take 300 of them. They have 2 artificial grass soccer pitches, internet cafe, basketball courts, library, family lounges, learn-to-drive school. It makes me sick.

On top of this, they each get paid over $1,200 per fortnight from social services, which is more than an Australian pensioner receives.

My blood pressure is going up writing this.

Howard had the solution - turn them round in mid-ocean. Only 3 boats got through in the last 2 years of his tenure as Prime Minister, and some occupants were loaded on an aircraft and returned to Indonesia straight away.

Roll on the next Federal Election.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sour grapefruits

The dozen-or-so grapefruit trees are in full flush but who can eat more than half a grapefruit for breakfast without running out of sugar? What to do with the rest?

Their bright yellow colour make them ideal warning signs to mark the spots where stumps get in the way of the ride-on mower.

What an ingenious idea! May I suggest that every ride-on mower be sold complete with a box of grapefruits to prevent the owner from running into knobbly obstacles and damaging the mower's cutting-deck?

The next step of the process involves a chainsaw but first I want to inspect the contents of the old fridge in the shed.

Click for close-up

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Embrace nothing; know nothing; do nothing

My father, who was a fervent admirer of Max Weber, imbued me with the Protestant work ethic long before I could even spell the word 'Kapitalismus', and I have been suffering from it ever since.

More than a decade into my retirement, I have finally found the right antidote: How to be Idle, a book by Tom Hodgkinson, the founding editor of The Idler, the celebrated magazine about the freedom and fine art of doing nothing.

In this wonderful book - my latest edition comes with added idleness! - Tom Hodgkinson presents his learned yet whimsical argument for a new universal standard of living: being happy doing nothing. He covers a whole spectrum of issues affecting the modern idler — sleep, work, pleasure, relationships — while reflecting on the writing of such famous apologists for it as Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Nietzsche — all of whom have admitted to doing their very best work in bed.

I am taking time off from my idleness to read this very entertaining book in Riverbend's 'idleic' setting.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Welcome to Riverbend Park

On foot, armed with axe and chainsaw, and from the comfort of my little KUBOTA, I have been busy taming the 7-acre wilderness that is Riverbend (or is it eight acres? anyway, it feels like a hundred!) As my Canadian philosopher-friend drily remarked, 'Keeping busy is the best way to keep the mind from wandering into places that it should not be.'

I quite like a bit of wilderness but prospective buyers think otherwise. They want their bit of English country garden inside a white picket-fence so who am I to argue?

In fact, who am I? I let you enjoy these latest snaps while I ponder this question.